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Inheritance is the practice of passing on property, titles, debts, and obligations upon the death of an individual. It has long played an important role in human societies. The rules of inheritance differ between societies and have changed over time.



In jurisdictions, an heir is a person who is entitled to receive a share of the decedent's property, via the rules of inheritance in the jurisdiction where the decedent died or owned property at the time of death. Strictly speaking, one becomes an heir only upon the death of the decedent. It is improper to speak of the "heir" of a living person, since the exact identity of the persons entitled to inherit are not determined until the time of death. In a case where an individual has such a position that only her/his own death before that of the decedent would prevent the individual from becoming an heir, the individual is called an heir apparent. There is a further concept of jointly inheriting, pending renunciation by all but one, which is called coparceny.

In modern legal use, the terms inheritance and heir refer only to succession of property from a decedent who has died intestate. It is a common mistake to refer to the recipients of property through a will as heirs when they are properly called beneficiaries, devisees, or legatees.


Detailed studies have been made in the Anthropological and sociological customs of patrilineal succession, is also known as gavelkind, where only male children can inherit. Some cultures also employ matrilineal succession only passing property along the female line. Other practices include primogeniture, under which all property goes to the eldest child, specifically it is often the eldest son, or ultimogeniture, in which everything is left to the youngest child. Some ancient societies and most modern states employ partible inheritance, under which every child inherits (usually equally).

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